School spending, increased HOPE and coupons in the minds of Georgia legislators in the closing days of the session

Georgia students and families could see big changes in their public schools this year as lawmakers continue work on numerous education bills that pump more money into classrooms, sweeten the HOPE scholarship and expand school credits.

But as the chill of winter gives way to the pollen-covered warmth of spring, time is running out to turn those calculations into laws. March 29 is Sine Die in Georgia, the last opportunity for state legislators to send legislation to the governor’s desk before returning to their districts for the year.

Here’s a glimpse of what could come out of the hectic final days of the legislative session.


On Thursday, the House passed its version of the proposed $32.5 billion state budget, which if approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, will add $13.1 billion to K-12 state funds would provide.

Teachers and other school employees are to receive a $2,000 pay rise, along with all other state employees.

House Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett said the House plan will fully fund the state’s share of the cost of educating all 1.7 million students in Georgia public schools, known as Quality Elementary Education, or QBE.

Some education leaders were hoping for changes to the QBE this year after a special Senate committee testified last year about updating the circa 1985 formula.

Some observers of Georgia’s education policy say it’s time to add a poverty weight to the formula and allocate extra dollars to students growing up in poverty. Georgia is one of six states that don’t.

Atlanta Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves introduced a bill Thursday to change that. The deadline for simply moving a bill from one chamber to another passed before Esteves submitted his bill, but he will still be active when the legislature reconvenes in January 2024.

Hatchett said the House budget includes other spending for children from lower-income families, including $6.3 million earmarked for free and reduced lunch students, which pays for free breakfast for 32,000 students and free lunch for 64,000 become.

The HOPE grant proved to be a sticking point in the house budget. The Republican leadership rejected Kemp’s proposal to fund the scholarships at 100% of tuition. They want to reserve the full ride for Zell Miller grantees, who have to meet more stringent requirements, and fund HOPE 95% instead of 90% and spend the difference to support HOPE for students attending private schools.

Atlanta Democratic Rep. Stacey Evans voted to approve the budget along with the rest of the House’s Democrats, but she urged her peers to consider funding the full amount when the House and Senate move into budget negotiations enter.

“We have the money to return the full promise of HOPE to all of our HOPE grantees, not just those with a 1200 SAT score,” she said.

Republicans said that funding HOPE in full would dishonor the hard work of the Zell Miller scholars, arguing that 95% of the funding left families paying very little.

One of the key open questions of this session is whether the House of Representatives will pass a Senate measure to expand school credits in Georgia.

Republican Senator Greg Dolezal of Cumming’s bill, which passed the GOP-controlled Senate on a party-line basis, would pay public school parents in the state’s lowest-performing schools $6,000 to educate their children elsewhere.

“I know that we all love our children, and I know that if I were to ask all of you, do you think you can make the best decision for your child, each of you would say yes,” Dolezal told his peers. “Let’s trust Georgia’s other parents to do the same.”

Republican-led states have expanded school vouchers, arguing that they offer students a way out of schools that don’t meet their needs.

Opponents say vouchers take dollars from underfunded public schools and funnel them to unaccountable private schools.

Abigail Harris, a Forsyth County high school senior, was part of a group of students from the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition that recently met in the Capitol to urge lawmakers to vote against the voucher bill.

Harris said she attended a Title I elementary school that is part of a federal program for schools with high poverty rates, and a $6,000 voucher would have done very little to help low-resource students.

“The reality of the situation is that kids who grew up in my situation leave us no choice but to go to private school,” she said. “There’s no choice. Where we live, these private schools don’t exist, and even if they did, $6,000 isn’t enough to give us that choice. So it ultimately just deprives us of the opportunity to have a fully funded one Having classrooms by providing an excuse for not funding that classroom.”

The average tuition for private schools in Georgia is $11,541 per year, according to Private School Review, and prices range from $1,042 to over $57,000.

school security

A Kemp-backed school safety bill appears poised for passage this year. It made its way through a Senate committee last week unopposed after a somewhat bumpy passage through the House of Representatives.

The bill would establish a school safety and anti-gang training program for teachers, encourage colleges and universities that train teachers to include safety and anti-gang instruction in their lesson plans, require schools to submit their safety plans to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and require that all schools hold an annual burglar alarm drill.

It passed the House 148-20, with some Democrats opposing the bill because they said it could cause undue stress for students and fail to address access to guns.

Dallas Republican Senator Jason Anavitarte is hoping the House of Representatives will pass his bill, dubbed the “Alyssa Law.” Named for Alyssa Alhadeff, a high school student killed in the 2018 Parkland, Fla. shooting, the law would require Georgia schools to purchase silent alarms to alert police in emergencies. Similar legislation is planned or proposed in other states.

Anavitarte said the bill does not allocate funds to purchase these devices, but he said some districts are already using them and schools that are not likely to receive grant funds that they could use to purchase them. Kemp’s proposed budget includes a $50,000 grant for each school in the state to be spent on safety measures.


At the beginning of this year’s session, Senate GOP leaders listed increasing Georgia’s child literacy rates as their top education priority for the year.

The results of the 2022 Georgia Milestones test show that 36% of third graders read below grade level.

Republican Statesboro Senator Billy Hickman is the lead sponsor of a bipartisan bill establishing a Georgia Council on Literacy with 24 members appointed by the governor, president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Council would be responsible for collecting data and publishing annual recommendations to improve literacy among Georgian students, including English-speaking second language students, students living in poverty and students with dyslexia.

Hickman’s bill passed the Senate unanimously and is awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved its own literacy bill, authored by Warner Robins Republican Rep. Bethany Ballard.

The bill focuses on kindergarten through third grade reading and requires the state board of education to provide a free literacy review tool and create guidelines for teacher education programs.